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Remembered Today:

London Irish Rifles: Unluckiest Battalion of the War?


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The SDGW data for the London Irish Rifles indicates 1,088 men died while serving with this unit (18th (County of London) Bn London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) - one of a few units that manages to get the word London into its official title three times. Some achievement. According to Ancestry, some 3,433 men of the same unit were awarded the BWM & VM. While the medal rolls do not capture all men who served, they are an excellent proxy (I think). The data implies 31% of all London Irish Rifles were killed during the war - nearly three times the national average. Even allowing for members who were recorded on other rolls (and presumably ex LIR men who died with other units), this is a staggering figure. 

 

Brig James' "British Regiments 1914-1918" provides very rough fatal casualty data for all regiments of the British Army. It lumps all the London Regiment battalions together (they were treated as separate Regiments for Battle Honours). Using this very rough guide, the Scots Guards appear to have been the hardest hit, suffering 2,840 fatal casualties across just two service Battalions. Cross checking against the BWM & VM Roll some 9,461 men served, which indicates 29% were killed. It is axiomatic that these are base figures and may need to be refined.

 

Even if we accept that the data is not perfect, there would still have to be some massive adjustments to split these two units. The main difference is that the London Irish arrived roughly a year after the Scots Guards and one of its Battalions served for some time in the 'decidedly less hazardous' side show of Palestine. The point is that the London Irish missed 1914  when the Scots Guards were being annihilated in First Ypres where one of its battalions was reduced to around 100 men. The Scots Guards had lost 891 of its men killed before the London Irish Rifles had set foot on the Western Front. 

 

This raises some questions: Was the London Irish Rifles' experience one of the most extreme of the war?. If we focus on the 1st Battalion (90% of all fatalities in the unit) it is possible that this was an extreme out-lier. I am interested in exploring this further. Any pointers would be gratefully received.

 

I have the history and the diaries. I am interested in establishing/finding a number of things:

 

1. Is the BWM data misleading? i.e are there hundreds of LIR men who are recorded on other Battalion or regimental medal rolls: The LIR roll has hundreds of men who had previously served in other London Regt battalions, so I am acutely aware of the risks of double counting. Conversely, is it possible that hundreds of LIR men ended up on other (London Reg) Battalion rolls?

2. Personal accounts written by LIR Officers.

3. A detailed study of the fluidity within the London Regiment: cross-postings between battalions appear to have been very high.

4. reference data for any infantry unit on numbers served. My rough benchmark is that battalions turned over about the equivalent of War Establishment every 12 months. 

 

MG

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Nothing in detail but being involved in the following (1st battalion) might be a clue to the number of casualties sustained:

1915

Battle of Aubers Ridge

Battle of Festubert

Battle of Loos

Actions of the Hohenzolleren Redoubt

1916

Vimy Ridge

Battle of Flers Courcelette

High Wood

Eaucourt l'Abbye

Butt de Warlencourt

1917

Battle of Messines

Battle of Pilckem Ridge

Capture of Bourlon Wood and German counter attacks

1918

Flesquieres Salient

Battle of St Quentin

1st Battle of Bapaume

Battle of the Ancre

Battle of Albert

2nd Battle of Bapaume

Advance in Artois

 

Edited by squirrel
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A number of the London Regiment battalions had high rates of  men killed - The Post Office Rifles for instance about 1800.

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4 hours ago, squirrel said:

A number of the London Regiment battalions had high rates of  men killed - The Post Office Rifles for instance about 1800.

The casualty data certainly suggests some battalions of the London Regiment had a much harder time than others during the war. I wonder if selected Battalions of the London Regiment were nominally chosen to be prioritised and kept in the line in a similar way to the Regular Battalions. My sense from studying the Medal Rolls is that other Battalions' recovered wounded/injured may have been diverted to keep the London Irish (and Post Office Rifles and possibly other Battalions) up to strength as far as possible. My speculation. 

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Somewhere in the past on this site there is a post which details comments from German intelligence sources which "rates", for want of a better word, the effectiveness of British Divisions. 47th (2nd London) is rated highly amongst the Regulars and described as a counter attack division. IIRC this was just after the Spring offensives of 1918 during which the Division performed creditably in the Flesquieres salient, having previously been involved in the capture and defence of Bourlon Wood during the battle of Cambrai.

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